Meat prices on the rise just as backyard grilling season begins

Just in time for grilling season, prices are rising for beef, pork and poultry.

Wholesale prices for pork, for example, reached a 14-year high last week in futures markets, while beef is up 22 percent this year. Chicken's gain in March was the most in 20 months, according to the U.S. Department of Agriculture.

Many grocers and restaurant owners have passed on some of those costs to consumers, who had benefited from lower prices for a long stretch until this year. Retail prices may even set records in the next 90 days as demand peaks during the summer grilling season, said John Nalivka, a meat industry consultant in Vale, Ore.

One major Kansas City area grocer, Hy-Vee, said a pound of 85 percent lean ground beef now costs about $1.99 a pound, up 30 cents from two months ago. During that same time, T-bone steak has gone from $5.99 a pound to $7.99.

Ruth Comer, a spokeswoman for the West Des Moines, Iowa-based chain, said prices could be up to 25 percent higher than prices a couple of months ago.

"Customers should prepare to pay more in general than they've been accustomed to paying," she said. "But they should keep in mind that we've been in a price trough for the last 18 to 24 months."

The National Restaurant Association is projecting a 4 to 12 percent increase in the cost of wholesale meat this year. Still, restaurants may be reluctant to raise prices now that sales are on the upswing following the recession.

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